Lucian Freud’s Elusive, Uncertain Self-Portraits

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst at the TLS:

Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985 Oil on canvas, 55.9 x 55.3 cm Private collection, on loan to the Irish Museum of Modern Art © The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images

He was often in trouble. There was his love of gambling, which he nurtured so carefully that at the Playboy Club in the 1960s he demonstrated how to play three games of pontoon simultaneously, keeping all the mathematical calculations ticking over in his head and accepting his losses as cheerfully as if they belonged to someone else. (Given how often he borrowed money there’s a good chance they did.) There were his regular dips into London’s criminal underworld: at one stage he was rumoured to owe the Krays half a million pounds; on another occasion he rang a friend asking for £1,500, “and if I haven’t got it by twelve o’clock they’re going to cut my tongue out”. Then there were the unpredictable bursts of violence, pushing one girl out of a car when she wouldn’t go home with him, and kicking a man in a pub for talking out of turn. Yet from Lucian Freud’s point of view such events were merely distractions from a far more serious fight, which was the one he had with himself every day. Even catching sight of himself in the mirror he kept in his studio could feel like an encounter between two strangers. “I don’t accept the information I get when I look at myself”, he explained, “and that’s when the trouble starts.”

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